Game Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Channel: SEC Network
How to watch online: WatchESPN
Spread: LSU (-13)
LSU fired Les Miles this week. You may have heard. Lost in all of that drama is the fact that new head coach Ed Orgeron and his team still have a game to play this week. Missouri is making it’s first-ever trip to Death Valley — LSU is the only team they’ve yet to play since joining the SEC — for some Tiger on Tiger action.
These two teams are pulling in opposite directions at the moment, despite identical records (2-2, 0-1 SEC). LSU is, of course, coming off of a loss at Auburn that got their long-time coach fired. Missouri visits the bayou after a 79-0 beatdown of FCS Delaware State in a shortened game.
Coming into the season, this looked like the surest loss on Mizzou’s schedule. Now, with all of the turmoil that’s happened in Baton Rouge this week, there’s some optimism for an upset. Can the black-and-gold Tigers actually pull it off? Let’s get into this game’s big questions.
How does an emotional week affect LSU’s play?
Few things do more to distract a team than firing its coach in the middle of the season. Whether getting rid of Les Miles was the right call or not is up for debate, but there’s no doubt that his former team is going to be affected by him leaving one way or the other.
So that begs the question: Does a tumultuous week have the players distracted and not ready to play? Or does it mean they get fired up to prove that they’re better than they’ve shown this season, and give full effort from the opening kickoff? LSU will win if it’s the latter — they have an obvious talent advantage — but they are opening the door for another loss if they come out flat and let Mizzou hang around.
Fortunately, LSU is playing at home, and it is homecoming. Death Valley at night is no joke, regardless of what happened in the preceding six days. Perhaps the energy of the crowd gets the home team amped up even if they’re initially a little lethargic.
Regardless, LSU’s mindset has the potential to swing this game. Whether that’s for the worse or for the better remains to be seen.
Does Leonard Fournette play?
In any other week, this would be the biggest question mark. Derrius Guice is good — maybe really good — but Fournette is on the short list for best players in college football. Even if his ankle is not 100 percent, he’s a huge difference maker. As it stands right now, Fournette is a game-time decision.
We’re still trying to figure out how good Missouri’s run defense is, because the two games they’ve played against power five opponents have had drastically different results.
In the season opener against West Virginia, Mizzou really struggled against the Mountaineers ground game, particularly on runs to the middle of the field. But against Nick Chubb and Georgia, they did an excellent job of shutting down the run. Chubb had 19 carries for just 63 yards in that game. The interior of the defensive line, in particular, helped Mizzou improve from opening weekend:
Overall, Missouri ranks 55th in rushing success rate, according to S&P+, but if Fournette is suiting up, they’ll need to perform much closer to how they did against Georgia than West Virginia. They have almost no chance to win otherwise.
Can Missouri continue to keep the pressure off Drew Lock?
As good as Lock and the receiving corp have been, the most pleasant surprise for Mizzou fans this season has been the performance of the offensive line, particularly in pass protection. Tackles Tyler Howell and Paul Adams have done a wonderful job of preventing pressure off the edge, and Missouri has only allowed one single sack this year.
In addition to the line’s drastic improvement, the new system implemented by offensive coordinator Josh Huepel is designed to give Lock quick reads and get the ball out before the pass rush even has a chance to beat their blockers. So far, it’s working:
With that said, this LSU pass rush is better than any Mizzou has faced so far this season. Arden Key is the best pass rusher in the conference right now, and Howell will have his hands full trying to keep him out of the backfield. It’s unrealistic to expect Mizzou to keep Key and LSU off of Lock all night, but when they do, they’ll need to make sure it doesn’t result in turnovers.
What will happen
I really have no idea what to make of this game. There’s so much unknown, particularly on LSU’s side of the ball. Fournette’s health is such a big key to this game, and while LSU should be able to win even if he doesn’t play, who knows where their heads are right now.
One thing I do feel pretty confident about: This line is too high. LSU, coming off the week it’s had, should not be favored by 13 points against an explosive offense like Missouri’s. I’m still picking the Bayou Bengals to win this game, but it’ll be a close one, and I would not be surprised at all if Mizzou were to pull off the upset.
Prediction: LSU 23, Missouri 21